There’s a double meaning behind director-cinematographer Óskar Páll Sveinsson’s debut feature “Against the Current.”  First, there’s the remarkable feat by Veiga Grétarsdóttir who attempts to kayak around Iceland, counterclockwise and against the current, a 2,000-kilometer journey that due to the Nordic island’s dangerous currents and unpredictable weather is comparable to climbing the second-highest mountain on Earth, K2.  It’s a test of strength but then so is Veiga’s life.  She was born as a boy in a small fishing village 44 years ago, but it didn’t take long to realize that her gender identity didn’t match the sex she was assigned at birth. Veiga’s transitioning story is even more courageous than her athletic feat.   

The fact that Sveinsson worked as a cinematographer on two documentaries before adding director duties explains the breathtaking shots of Iceland captured in the absorbing documentary.  We watch as Veiga navigates the sometimes-choppy waters surrounding Iceland adding to the already difficult task of rowing against the current.  For 103 days she attempted to do what no woman has done before and only after kayaking recreationally. She turned her hobby into a profession as a guide in Iceland and Greenland four years before taking the 1,300-mile challenge which became Veiga’s mission.  You could say she’s been transitioning her entire life, personally and in her career.

Sveinsson lets Veiga tell her courageous story as she went from a young boy named Veigar who showed interest in cross-dressing at the age of 10, to a teenager who tried to overcompensate her true feelings by playing sports, hunting, and fishing, in fact, Veigar was very popular with the girls.  At an age when some teens hide booze and cigarettes from their parents, Veiga hid women’s clothing behind a woofer in a speaker.

The documentary features interviews with Veiga’s supportive parents, brothers, and friends who share their memories of her childhood.  Like so many other stories of young men and women who feel like they don’t belong, Veiga’s journey took a dark turn when she tried to take her own life.  She survived, repressed her true feelings, and at the age of 38, married and the father of a child, Veiga decided to become transgender, “I decided to live my life, make my dreams come true.” She remains friends with her ex-wife who is also featured in the documentary.   

“Against the Current” equally balances Veiga’s personal and athletic triumph which keeps the film from straying into melancholy territory.  It’s an inspiring and moving story that in Sveinsson’s hands, circumnavigates heartstring pulls by focusing on victories large and small. 

As Pride Month ends, here’s one more way to celebrate LGBTQ equality, and simultaneously support independent theaters.  You can rent the documentary to watch at home via the Virtual Cinema website and app Kino Marquee at   https://kinomarquee.com/

(3 stars)

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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